Saturday, May 24, 2008

Is happiness an overrated term?

I write this as an extremely personal post and I apologize if you stumbled on this expecting something better than emotional rant. Its quite reflective of my state of mind. Happiness - I have thought about this before and it seems to be a very overrated word. Why overrated? Because we seem to make it such a difficult thing to get. We try to devise theories around it and imagine numerous ways to get to it. But truly, happiness is just a state of mind. While influenced by the things you have and the relationships you build, you could still have happiness without all of these.

This may sound very cliche and frankly I don't know if I am even saying the right things, but sometimes I look at my life; the routines I've put myself into and often I see myself and others to be victims of a cluttered mind. I see us either brooding over a past which we cant change or awaiting a future that we cant predict. And often so many of us postpone happiness because of an event that's occurred which perhaps means that we "shouldnt be happy" or because we expect an event that'd "make us happy". I wonder how many moments of happiness I've lost in life trying to chase these pipe dreams, when all I should have done was follow my bliss; when I've always known that the only time I can surely be happy is NOW.

I make this resolve to myself very often - that I'd seek happiness; that I'd seek out my smile no matter the situation, but I have also been guilty of not standing by my resolve. I sometimes think of everything in my life; my passion for teaching, my love of the outdoors, the pleasures of reading, the thrill of visiting new places, meeting new people, seeing new cultures; and the beautiful moments that I have had with my parents, my friends, my dog (!) and I wonder how those moments of sadness even made their way into my life.

And that brings me to a few overloaded words - responsibility, commitment, relationships. What good is responsibility if it weighs you down? What good is a commitment if it means you cant do what makes you happy? What good is a relationship if it means that you cant see eye to eye with the other person anymore? Do we still hang on to our relationships, our commitments, our responsibilities? Even if they really have no personal value in the given context? This puzzles me. It puzzles me to think that my life is governed by the strange laws that my society wrote, in a context thats in no way similar to mine.

Somewhere, deep down, there's a young boy who wants to hear his father tell him stories; there's hidden a young man who wants to run; as far as there's nowhere left to go; to be limitless; to be without boundaries; to be loved but not be bothered if there is no love. Somewhere, there's a man who loves time with his dog and his books, because they don't ask for much to bring you happiness. I don't know how many of these people are within me; clamoring for attention. I hear them every morning and every night, but somewhere in hustle bustle of the day they're lost. I know that it'd perhaps be as simple as the click of a finger (in fact I' sure), but as I said it could be me making it difficult. Who knows... maybe I'll know soon...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

How real is a training simulation?

In my training career, one of the wishes I've seen a lot of professionals express is; "I want the training to be as close to reality as possible". While I appreciate the intent, its often important to understand that there are various reasons why a training environment should not model reality a 100%. Here's why I think so:

a) A "real" environment generally has a mix of experienced and inexperienced individuals. Trying to mimic that environment with a group of inexperienced folks does NOT model reality.

Note: A simulation is meant to be a ground to fail fast and learn from mistakes. The trainer brings in his/ her experience into such an environment through briefs/ debriefs so that students can learn by way of a semi-controlled activity.

b) A "real" environment gives each participant at least some time to prepare/ plan for the activities that follow. When students have no idea of what's coming up, they have no way to either plan or prepare.

Note: To run an effective simulation, the trainer should be willing to do the background work for the students (preparation for client meetings, deciding agenda, collecting material, etc)

c) A "real" environment could at times involve a mix of roles which could potentially be absent in the classroom. In absence of these roles, students could miss out on perspectives they'd usually have during the real situation.

Note: To ensure that students dont miss out on different perspectives, the facilitator should plan the debriefing sessions to point out the areas that students didnt think about. This will help them relate back to the mistakes they made and reinforce their learning.

Things to remember about Simulations:
  • Please, please, please have a plan ON PAPER. Try to have a logical sequence to the activities that you wish to conduct, with enough time for briefing and debriefing.

  • Make yourself available at all times to provide guidance and to facilitate the process.

  • If you have volunteers helping you out in the simulation, make them understand their role and give them enough information to do it exactly the way you'd imagine.

  • Be clear about the learnings you wish to drive out as part of each activity and rehearse how you'd bring these out during the debrief.

  • Please, for heaven's sake, dont take "reality" to the extreme. Always remember, if your students were ready for reality, they wouldn't be in your classroom!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Retrospectives - Deciding Action Items

One of the challenges of facilitating retrospectives in a training environment is that it inadvertently becomes the trainers' prerogative to act on action items. Its useful to remember that retrospectives are for the team and the trainer is just another member in the team. It therefore is important that all learners contribute to improving the learning experience.

Often it so happens that there's just a handful of people keep volunteering to drive action items. One of the tools I find useful to drive out action items is the "Who", "What", "When". I just draw up a flipchart with those headings and try to break up each action item into those fields. As a result, if someone has way too many action items against his/ her name, it shows up. Unrealistic deadlines are immediately visible too. I find this as a useful way to split responsibility and take action items to completion.
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